Your pet is a part of the family and an integral part of your life. Through the highs and lows, your pet has been there providing comfort and unconditional love. Now your senior pet is nearing the end of their life, and it’s your turn to provide them with the same comfort and love. But, deciding when the time has come to let your pet pass can be extremely difficult. You will need to evaluate their quality of life (QOL), which depends on a variety of factors that influence their overall physical and mental wellbeing. Our team at University Veterinary Hospital shares how to assess your senior pet’s QOL and make compassionate end-of-life decisions.
Be clear on what quality of life means to your pet
Some pets experience a visibly rapid QOL decline in the last stages of their life—often resulting from disease—which can make the decision easier because of their obvious suffering. However, a pet’s QOL can decline slowly, and their signs can be more subtle. Also, QOL looks different to everyone. A good starting place for measuring your pet’s QOL is asking, “Is my pet able to do the things that make them happy without pain?”
Prioritize regular preventive care for your pet
Age-related health conditions can diminish your senior pet’s quality of life. These commonly include:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Dental disease
- Vision and hearing loss
When diseases are identified in the earliest stages, we can treat your pet quickly before the problem progresses. Senior pets require closer monitoring with more frequent examinations and lab work (e.g., blood work, urinalysis) and should be seen at least every six months.
Use a quality of life scale for pets
A quality of life scale is a tool that objectively evaluates your pet’s wellbeing and helps you make difficult end-of-life care decisions. A QOL scale provides a big-picture view of your pet’s overall health (e.g., pain level, appetite, mobility, and energy level) by measuring the following seven factors:
- Hunger — A pet’s ability and desire to eat are good health indicators. If you cannot coerce your pet to eat by changing their diet or hand-feeding, you may need to syringe- or tube-feed them, which can be uncomfortable and stressful for you and your pet.
- Hydration — Assess your pet’s fluid intake. Can your pet remain adequately hydrated? Can you administer subcutaneous fluids at home? Will your pet tolerate that?
- Hurt — Pain medications and alternative therapies can keep your pet comfortable for an extended period, but when treatment can no longer keep your pet comfortable, they will suffer.
- Hygiene — Observe your pet’s hygiene habits and appearance. Are they able to groom themselves appropriately? If not, can you keep them clean and dry? Numerous health conditions cause vomiting, diarrhea, and incontinence, and you may struggle to keep your pet clean and comfortable, especially if their lack of mobility affects their ability to eliminate on their own.
- Happiness — What brings your pet joy? Do they still enjoy their favorite activities? Do they want to be part of the family? Do they appear depressed, uninterested, or anxious?
- Mobility — While managing a poorly mobile small pet is not too difficult, caring for a large pet who cannot walk without help may not be possible.
- More good days than bad — As you track your senior pet’s QOL score, you will see when they start having more bad days than good.
If your pet’s assessment shows a less than acceptable QOL, you need to start thinking about the end of their life. Our University Veterinary Hospital team can assist in evaluating your pet’s QOL to help you make an informed decision about what’s best for your pet. Contact our team to schedule an evaluation of your senior pet’s QOL, so you can prevent any unnecessary, prolonged suffering.
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